The Fiery Appeal of Hot Chile Peppers

Enthusiasts are drawn to their colorful culinary potential—or simply the thrill of the challenge

Grab a glistening, hot chile pepper—one jewel-toned beauty with a volcanic pedigree—and take the dare. Just know that once you pop that capsicum into your mouth, there is no turning back. No amount of water, beer, milk, or bread can fully put out the flame. 

Chiles growing in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, for every coughing and gasping amateur daredevil, there are dozens of die-hard chile-heads for whom the pain of eating hot peppers is all pleasure. The seared taste buds, watery eyes, and sinus-clearing fumes are part of the attraction, along with the hunt for evermore pungent pepper thrills. 

Red chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bringing the Heat

Humans have been eating peppers for at least 9,000 years. While archaeologists pinpoint the eastern coast of Mexico as the cradle of cultivation, there’s evidence that around the same time, indigenous peoples were harvesting and eating wild peppers from what is now the southwestern United States through Mexico and south to Peru. 

Pecans, pistachios, and chiles at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch, Almagardo, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nobody knows exactly why humans crave the culinary drama of hot peppers, but scientists have come up with a few theories. The word addiction has been bandied about, in part because capsaicin, the substance that gives chiles their signature punch, causes pain followed by an immediate release of endorphins. Endorphins floating around the brain trigger a sense of euphoria. In addition, capsaicin releases chemicals that reduce the sensation of pain (which is why it is a popular ingredient in topical pain relievers). 

Related: Chile Peppers 101

Red chiles at Farmers and Craft Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Hot Is Hot?

In 1912, Parke-Davis Co. pharmacist Wilbur Scoville began exploring the capsaicin kick of different types of peppers. He wasn’t aiming for chile-head immortality but for a more efficient way to produce a capsaicin-laced liniment. He crushed chiles combined them with sugar water and had a panel of taste-testers take sips. Over time, Scoville diluted the chiles with more and more water until the tasters could no longer detect any heat in their cups. The pharmacist rated different chiles based on how much water was required to negate the capsaicin. 

Chiles growing in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scoville called his process the Scoville Organoleptic Test. Today, in his honor, pepper punch is measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) arranged on the Scoville Scale. No taste-tester tongues were harmed in the ranking process. Now, SHUs are measured using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), a process that measures the heat-generating chemicals in chiles.

Hot sauces at Billy’s Boudin, Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For context, pure capsaicin ranks at 15 to 16 million SHUs, and sweet bell peppers come in at 0. In between is the Carolina Reaper at 2.2 million, orange habaneros at 150,000 to 325,000, cayenne peppers at 30,000 to 50,000, and jalapeños at 2,500 to 8,000.

Related: Feel the Burn

Pepper growers continue to try to out-spice each other with new tongue-searing cultivars. At any given time, a new hybrid could explode to the top of the scale.

Red chiles at Farmers and Crafts Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sensory Perception

What are the mechanisms through which the human body responds to the varying degree of heat in chile peppers? As it turns out we didn’t know until very recently. In fact, in 1997, Dr. David Julius discovered the neural pathway that gets activated by capsaicin, causing spicy foods to feel “hot” when consumed.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, on October 4, 2021, David Julius, a physiologist, and Ardem Patapoutian, a molecular biologist and neuroscientist, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The men were honored for their research into human sensory perception; each had, independently of the other, discovered mechanisms through which human bodies respond to touch and temperature.

Red chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The importance of the five senses cannot be understated. They are mediums through which we experience and understand the world around us, transforming external stimuli into electrical signals that our brain translate into the sensations of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. How exactly this transformation works out on a molecular level, however, was long unclear and still remains one of the most elusive questions in modern science.

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Julius currently serves as the chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of California in San Francisco. In 1997, his team of researchers compiled a library of neural pathways that are activated by capsaicin, a compound that gives spicy foods like chile peppers their burning sensation when consumed. Along the way, Dr. Julius discovered TRPV1, the ion channel that acts as our primary capsaicin receptor.

Chiles growing in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico

In order to truly appreciate Dr. Julius’ discovery, a bit of context may be in order. Unless you build up a tolerance, eating spicy foods is painful. Peppers (and wasabi) give off a strange sensation that your mouth is on fire and for the longest time researchers simply couldn’t figure out why this was the case.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Julius answered this question by showing us that TRPV1 is responsible for keeping our bodies safe from high temperatures. The channel responds not only to capsaicin but also to temperatures that are greater than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. TRPV1 also acts up when we are injured or sunburned, causing damaged tissue to feel hot to the touch. In all cases, the channel transmits a signal that our brains turn into the sensation of heat.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Matter of Taste

Chile aficionados know their way around the Scoville Scale but they also insist that chile varieties like grape varieties and wines have terroir. Put simply, terroir is a subtle turn of flavor based on the location where a pepper is grown. By this measure, a Hatch green chile from New Mexico will taste distinctly different from the same variety grown in California. 

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Hatch Chile Peppers

Tabasco Country Store, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Likewise, different peppers carry different signature taste prints. Habaneros are known for their fruity, floral flavors; jalapeños tend to be herbaceous; Thai chiles have an earthy flavor; Tabasco peppers have a slightly smoky taste. 

Experimenting with chiles of different pedigrees and forms—fresh, dried, crushed, powdered—could become a lifelong obsession. At what point does the chile overpower the food? What blends work together? What chile paste perfectly accentuates a stew, a kebab, barbecued ribs, or a block of tofu?

La Posta Restaurant, Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, while you’re pondering, shopping, and cooking remember one thing: capsaicin, the thing that brings the truth-or-dare pleasure and pain to hot peppers has exactly no flavor. None! So if you’re expecting to add a sweet, tart, or vegetal aura to your food, start with a pepper you can actually taste before moving up the scale. 

Red chile flavored pistachios at Eagle Ranch, Almadargo, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Hot Pepper Sauces

Chile-heads love to sample and collect hot sauces for the flavor and potency of the specific elixirs as well as for the opportunity to grab a portable pepper fix. For most, the hot sauce hobby has the makings of a lifelong obsession simply because there are so, so many different commercially produced sauces to try.

Related: 4 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Market researchers quantify the U.S. hot pepper sauce market at around $1.2 billion as of 2018 with the spicy condiment snaring more than $2.3 globally. At any given time, more than 100 major brands are vying for a share of that pie.

Red chiles at Farmers and Crafts Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The invention of hot sauce is credited to the ancient Aztecs who cultivated chili peppers to add some flavor and nutritional value to their limited food choices. By the time the conquistadors arrived, the Aztecs were already mixing peppers, herbs, and water into sauces and serving them on ancient versions of the corn tortilla.

Fast forward several hundred years and hot sauces have spread from their birthplace in Central America to North America, Europe, Asia, and outer space. Walk into your average grocery store and you’ll be confronted with a dazzling array of hot sauce bottles filled with liquids in red, green, yellow, and orange. Different brands come with different types of peppers, ingredients, spice levels, and suggested food pairings—and not all are created equal.

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edmund McIlhenny, a banker from Avery Island, Louisiana, founded Tabasco in 1868. The recipe evolved over time. A soldier returning from Mexico in 1840 gave McIlhenny, a known gardener, seeds from wild peppers he had collected. McIlhenny planted the seeds and the peppers that grew became the basis for Tabasco sauce. McIlhenny named the unique Mexican pepper strain for the sauce which he had already named for a region in Mexico. 

Tabasco Country Store, Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To this day, Tabasco is made from the McIlhenny family’s original recipe: Tabasco peppers, vinegar, and salt aged in oak barrels for up to three years. Tabasco peppers are handpicked when they turn a deep red, which apparently signifies optimal flavor and heat.

Related: Avery Island: Touring Tabasco & Jungle Gardens

Tabasco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tabasco has many competitors including regional hot sauces, sauces with international pedigrees, and sauces created for different cooking techniques. I’ve tried many of them including:

  • Louisiana Brand Hot Sauce which was engineered in New Iberia
  • Tapatío, a popular Mexico hot sauce with a guy with a sombrero on it that’s not actually a Mexican hot sauce but made in California
  • Cholula (Choe-loo-la), named for a 2,500-year-old city in Mexico but actually manufactured in Chapala in the Mexican state of Jalisco—not Cholula—and instantly identifiable by its signature wooden bottle cap
  • Crystal Hot Sauce, the best-selling Louisiana hot sauce that has been in New Orleans since 1923 and popular around the world
  • Frank’s Hot Sauce, a Louisiana-born sauce made from Cayenne red peppers, distilled vinegar, water, salt, and garlic powder

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

The Ultimate Guide to Hatch Chile Peppers

Green chile season is heating up in New Mexico where the fiery peppers are an indispensable part of the local cuisine—and daily life

Hatch chiles grown today (in fact all New Mexican chile peppers) owe their genetic base from cultivars (cultivated variety) first developed by horticulturist Fabián Garcia at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now known as the New Mexico State University (NMSU). Starting in 1894, Fabián Garcia crossed several local pod types with the goal of improving them for the region. He sought larger, smoother peppers that were better for canning.

Following many years of crossing and growing, he released a variety called New Mexico No. 9 in 1913. All New Mexican chile peppers owe their genetic base to these peppers. Today, chile pepper studies continue at the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico, founded by Paul Bosland in order to study New Mexican peppers and others from around the world.

Red chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hatch Chile Fever

To pay homage to the grandmother of all New Mexican chile peppers, consider a visit to Hatch, a small agricultural village in southern New Mexico known as the “Chile Capital of the World.” The oh-so-flavorful Hatch pepper is named after Hatch Valley where the bulk of Hatch peppers are grown. This is thanks to the river valley’s combination of nutrient-rich soil, intense sunlight, and cool desert nights.

Unlike other peppers, Hatch comes in different seed varieties that cover the full spectrum of heat levels. Typically, the mild to medium-hot varieties are more readily available. Then, there is red vs. green peppers. For those that didn’t know, red peppers are the same but have simply been left on the plant longer to ripen.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In preparing Hatch Valley’s famous peppers, a 40-pound burlap sack of green chiles is dropped into a gas-fired roaster. The flames roar as chiles tumble in the rotating wire cage and the thick, sharp scent permeates throughout the area. First, it’s high heat, then low!

These chiles are the centerpiece of the meal which is itself the pinnacle of New Mexico cuisine, a distinctive craft in which the Land of Enchantment takes such pride. The state has made chiles the “Official State Food” and designated “Red or Green?” the “official state question” referring to which kind of chile diners prefer on their enchiladas.

Chile Ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The harvest begins most years in late July and extends into October. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a celebration of their world-famous crop. Despite the town’s tiny size, Hatch swells to more than 30,000 people during the two-day festival. The event features chile ristra contests, artisan and food booths, and a carnival. This year marks 50 years since the festival’s inception. The pandemic thwarted last year’s celebration making the 2021 gathering extra-special.

For first-time visitors, it’s not a stretch to think the hot chiles the farmers grow in these fertile fields are hazardous (a sentiment first-time chile tasters often feel today). But I quickly grew to love the chiles and can’t imagine daily life without the fiery and tasty peppers.

Red chiles by the sack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiles of the World

Those first chiles were what are called landrace varieties, a term referring to crop types that people develop by saving seeds and adapting them to their specific growing area. Chiles and chile seeds were no doubt traded up and down the Rio Grande Valley for centuries among indigenous peoples, then Hispanic settlers. The distinctive chiles so familiar today date back to the early 20th century.

In the world, there are literally thousands of chile types. They originated in Mesoamerica and spread rapidly across the globe after Christopher Columbus brought New World foods back to Europe. In Africa, southern Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, backyard growers did their own breeding, just as New Mexico growers did.

Chile Ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of those thousands of chile types, the ones that form the backbone of Hatch pepper production are called—surprise—“New Mexican pod” varieties and the original types have been supplemented often with new cultivars developed at New Mexico State.

Chile farming today is vastly different from a century ago. Most of the fields have buried drip irrigation that feeds steady moisture to the plant roots. A six-year rotation schedule fends off soil-borne diseases; when they aren’t growing chiles, Hatch farmers produce alfalfa, onions, and cotton, among other crops.

Red chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hatch Chiles

The Hatch Chile Association has obtained a federal-type certificate and a trademark for chiles grown there. But there’s more than one kind of “Hatch chile” ranging from modern mild types to older, hotter varieties. Charger (hybrid Anaheim) chiles, a medium-hot favorite grown to be used green, can range from 500 to 3500 on the Scoville scale (which extends past 1 million for ghost peppers and such); Big Jims are milder, Anaheim-like; Sandias are hotter and grown for ripening; Lumbres is hotter still, and the list goes on.

And if the list of thousands of chile varieties, all with different shapes, colors, flavors, and levels of heat, isn’t complex enough, consider that all of those chile types produce fruits that vary from plant to plant—sometimes from pod to pod on the same plant.

Get to know the many varieties of Hatch chile peppers. Following are some of the most popular developed for and grown in the Hatch area.

Red chiles by the sack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NuMex Big Jim: This giant chili pepper was introduced by NMSU in the 1970s as a cross between a few different types of local chiles and a Peruvian chile. They measure 10-12 inches and mature to red but are usually harvested and used when green. The peppers have actually been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest chile ever grown. Big Jim chili peppers are about as hot as a milder jalapeno pepper (Scoville Heat Units: 2,500-3,000 SHU), so you’ll get a bit of heat, but not very much, depending on your heat tolerance and preference.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NuMex Sandia: Another hybrid chili pepper developed by the NMSU, the Sandia grows to 6-7 inches and is similar to the Anaheim pepper. They start green and ripen to red but are often used while green. Like so many other peppers from this region, the red ones can be dried to make decorative ristras. They are also great for roasting, making chiles Rellenos, or for use in salsas. Slightly hotter than a jalapeno (Scoville Heat Units: 5,000-7,000 SHU), it adds quite a kick to dishes and salsa but not overwhelming heat.

NuMex Joe E. Parker: This New Mexico variety was named after Mr. Joe E. Parker, a graduate of NMSU’s College of Agriculture and Home Economics who helped to evaluate this selection of chile. It originally came from one plant selected from a field of open-pollinated New Mexico 6-4 peppers. The chiles grow to about 8 inches in length and 1.8 inches in width and can be used either in their green or red stage. Although similar to the New Mexico 6-4 in flavor and heat (Scoville Heat Units: 1,500-3,000 SHU), green color, and size, it is generally preferable to the New Mexico 6-4 because of its higher chile yield, its thicker walls, and its ability to continue to produce red chiles after the initial green fruit harvest. The NuMex Joe E. Parker can be a great chile for canning whole and is excellent for chiles Rellenos or for grilling or roasting due to its thicker walls.

Red chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NuMex Heritage 6-4: The New Mexico 6-4 Heritage chile pepper was developed around 1998 from a seed bank of the original New Mexico 6-4. The original NM 6-4 which was released in 1957 had “run out” meaning that after so many years of commercial growing, it had lost much of its flavor and aroma and had increased its variability in heat levels, maturity date, and yield. Dr. Paul Bosland along with NMSU’s Chile Pepper Institute and Biad Chili used seeds from the original NM 6-4 that had been frozen in a storage lab to create the new line of chile. Dr. Bosland grew the peppers for three years perfecting the line by selecting for more flavor and improved yield. The result was a chile (Scoville Heat Units: 3,000-5,000 SHU) with five times more flavor and aroma than the original and the flavor is even stronger and richer when it’s roasted. They grow to 5-8 inches in length.

Barker Extra Hot: The Barker’s Hot chili pepper is an extra-hot chile (SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 15,000-30,000 SHU), the hottest of the Anaheim/New Mexico variety and it has great flavor. They grow to 5-7 inches in length and can be used just as you would use an Anaheim with an extra punch. This variety originally comes from a selection of native New Mexican chiles so it naturally grows well in very hot, dry climates. The peppers ripen from green to red with the red fruits growing hotter than the green ones. The fruits have thin skins making them great for roasting, frying whole, canning, or stuffing. They also make deliciously hot salsa.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Hot is Hot?

Talk about heat! The 7 Pot Douglah is an extremely hot pepper (SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 923,889 – 1,853,986 SHU) from Trinidad. Its skin is notably dark chocolate brown and somewhat pimpled. It starts off green but matures to a rich brown. It is one of the Hottest Peppers in the World. Aside from the color, it looks very much like other superhot chili peppers, roughly habanero shaped, about two inches long. The hottest 7 Pot Douglas is about 232 times hotter than the hottest jalapeno pepper and more than 5 times a very hot habanero pepper.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hooked on the Heat

My introduction to green chile came long ago at a variety of restaurants in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Mesilla. My palate sizzled with capsaicin. Endorphins fizzed in my veins like butter. It was the start of a lifelong love affair and chiles have been a constant in my diet ever since. Once you get hooked, you can’t get unhooked. It’s an addiction, but it’s a good one.

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

Las Cruces: Outdoor Adventure & Rich History

From national parks and monuments to one of the top-rated farmer’s markets in the country, Las Cruces offers a world filled with natural wonder, endless sunshine, and historic proportions of fun

From the rugged mountains to the giant forests to the vast desert, New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment and home to an exceptional variety of activities throughout the state. 

Las Cruces, the second-largest city in New Mexico behind Albuquerque, is home to just over 100,000 people thanks in part to hosting New Mexico State University. That gives the city a unique southwestern culture. However, the surrounding area offers numerous popular attractions all within easy driving distance. White Sands National Park is less than an hour away with huge sand dunes that you can hike or sled down.

Mesilla Valley and Organ Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled under the sharp landscape of the Organ Mountains to the east, the Mesilla Valley is situated along the banks of the Rio Grande River where some of the nation’s spiciest and scrumptious chilis are grown a few miles north of Las Cruces in the town of Hatch, which calls itself the Chile Capital of the World.

Chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hatch Valley Chile Festival takes place in early September (September 4-5, 2021) and visitors can taste delicacies that range from hot to scalding to molten lava. For a fun souvenir, pick up a chile ristra which is rumored to bring extra good health when hung outside a house—or RV. 

Las Cruces has a rich history with American Indian tribes and Spanish conquistadors claiming the area as their own. Billy the Kid, a famous American outlaw, was sentenced to death just outside of the city in a town called Old Mesilla. The courtroom and jail that held him are still standing.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A quaint little community, Old Mesilla is home to dozens of art galleries and souvenir stores. The town square is the site of the very last stop on the Butterfield stagecoach line. In fact, the building that served weary travelers back then is still standing. Today, La Posta de Mesilla is a 10,000-square-foot restaurant that serves authentic Mexican food.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces is home to some of the largest dairy farms in America where they’re milking thousands of cows twice a day. If agriculture is of interest to you, be sure to check out the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. The 47-acre site consists of 24,000-square feet of exhibit space including a working farm where people can see cows being milked and a blacksmith tending to his duties.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only is New Mexico State University a vibrant educational center with a plethora of ongoing cultural, social, and athletic events, it is home to the Zuhl Collection, which is a part art gallery and part natural history museum. Sponsored by Herb and Joan Zuhl, New York business people who made their living collecting fossils, minerals, and rocks, they retired to New Mexico and donated more than 2,000 of their best exhibits to the university.

Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weekly Farmers & Crafts Market has been rated one of the best outdoor markets in the U.S. Held every Saturday and Wednesday morning on Main Street in downtown Las Cruces, the market has over 300 vendors who gather to offer fresh local produce, honey, herbs, spices, arts and crafts and much more.

Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While touring historic downtown Las Cruces, be sure to stop in the Amaro Winery. Established just a few years ago, it has become a favorite stop among wine connoisseurs. All the grapes are grown in the fertile lands of southern New Mexico. The same soil that produces mouth-watering chilis also nurtures fine wine.

Las Cruces’ neighbor to the south, historic El Paso, Texas, is just 45 minutes south and features its own assortment of fun activities including a casino, museums, historic monuments, and zoo. It’s a fun and scenic day trip, especially the scenic route that goes around the southernmost tip of the Rocky Mountains for fabulous views of El Paso and neighboring Juarez, Mexico.

Along the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another scenic route is the Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road that connects east El Paso to the west. In nearby Franklin Mountains State Park, visitors can enjoy breathtaking scenic views aboard the Wyler Aerial Tramway, an enclosed gondola that makes a four-minute trip to Ranger Peak. There, you’ll have an eagle’s view of 7,000 square miles of land that encompasses three states and two nations.

Mainstreet Downtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever. In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.

—D.H. Lawrence

A Monumental Road Trip through New Mexico’s National Monuments

From ancient natural wonders to Native American and Southwestern culture, to scenic vistas and alien lore, New Mexico is one of the most wonderfully unique destinations in America

Road trips have the unique ability to make you feel like you’ve thoroughly explored a region on a Lewis and Clark-esque journey. In reality, even the most extensive road trips leave many stones unturned especially in states with seemingly limitless natural beauty. New Mexico would probably take months on the road to fully explore. That’s okay. You don’t have to see every inch of New Mexico on one tank of fuel but the state’s famous national monuments are a good place to start.

Albuquerque from Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In fact, only California and Arizona have more national monuments and that’s not even counting New Mexico’s historic parks. Rather than visit all 11 national monuments we’ve listed our favorites among them which will give you a feel for what makes this state’s geography so unique and memorable. Whether it’s a volcanic field or a white-sand desert, New Mexico’s unusual landscapes are just waiting to be visited. Here’s how to plan the perfect New Mexico road trip through its epic national monuments.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Albuquerque to rock carvings

Road trips might be about the journey rather than the destination but no one wants to wait too long before stopping at their first viewpoint or reaching the first stop on their itinerary. When you set out from Albuquerque you’ll only have to wait mere minutes before seeing your first national monument.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Technically located within the city limits of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument stretches 17 miles along Albuquerque’s West Mesa. Petroglyphs are rock carvings where drawings are made by chiseling on the outer layer of the stone to expose the paler rock underneath. One of the largest petroglyph sites in North America, this area features designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks 400 to 700 years ago by Native Americans and Spanish settlers. The symbols give you a window into the life of a centuries-old civilization and serve as a record of cultural expression.

There are also four different hiking trails just a short drive from the information center ranging in length from one to four miles roundtrip. Three of these trails allow for petroglyph viewing. To see the area is less time and then continue on your journey, consider mountain biking. Bikes are permitted on the Boca Negra Canyon multi-use path.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head to the headlands

About two hours west of Duke City, El Morro begs the traveler—ancient and modern—to rest awhile. This national monument is an area both of scenic beauty and historic significance. The bluff (el morro means “the headland” in Spanish) has a reliable source of water making it a great base for ancestral Puebloans and a good stopping point for both Spanish and American travelers. Along the path, only a half mile long and perfect for the casual visitor, are ancient petroglyphs as well as inscriptions from Spanish conquistadors as early as 1605 and, more recently, American travelers passing through in the 1850s.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico’s volcanic landscape

From El Morro, your route continues back toward Albuquerque and it’s worth the detour to head to El Malpais National Monument. The rough lava landscape so scarred by its volcanic history that “malpaís” in fact means “badland.” Like El Morro, the landscape is quite barren though there is evidence of prior volcanic activity including several lava tubes you can explore.  Even though these badlands cover a large area you can see much of it by following the main park road. Numerous hikes and longer treks are available. Malpais is certainly worth a visit.

White Sands National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South to the white desert

Since you’re half way to the border of Arizona at this point, it’s time to turn around and head south. But we’re not stopping at Albuquerque. We’re passing your starting point by about four hours (250 miles) to White Sands National Park taking Interstate 25 south to Las Cruces and US-70 northeast.

At the end of 2019, White Sands was designated a national park—but it was a national monument for 86 years. It’s on the itinerary because you haven’t really seen the New Mexico desert until you’ve seen White Sands, a remarkable place that looks like the Sahara Desert collided with the Alabama Gulf Coast. That’s because its sand is made of gypsum, a mineral salt left by a long-lost lake tens of millions of years ago.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located at the southern edge of a 275-square-mile dune field in the Tularosa Basin, the monument is best explored by the eight-mile Dunes Drive from the visitor center into the heart of the rippled gypsum knolls. In addition to driving the alien terrain you can also get out and cycle, take advantage of picnic areas, or even camp under the stars. Indeed, backcountry camping sites among the dunes are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

There are five hiking trails through the park ranging from the half-mile Playa Trail focusing on outdoor educational exhibits to the more strenuous Alkali Flat Trail, a five-mile round trip hike taking you to the edge of Lake Otero. Despite its name, the trail is not flat taking you over steep dunes and into the heart of the spectacular park.

Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From delicate dunes to craggy peaks

To cap off your New Mexico road trip, travel south to Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. A stark departure from the flat, arid landscape that has defined much of this road trip, this area is home to dramatic ranges with rocky spires and the park is full of open woodlands with towering ponderosa pines.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument includes the Organ Mountains, Doña Ana Mountains, Sierra de las Uvas Mountains Complex, and the Greater Potrillo Mountains. The Organ Mountains are defined by their angular peaks, narrow canyons, and views of the Chihuahuan Desert habitat. It’s popular among horseback riders, mountain bikers, campers, and hikers. The Doña Ana Mountains have an abundance of hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails as well as rock climbing routes. The more remote Potrillo Mountains comprise a volcanic landscape including lava flows and craters.

Before driving back to Albuquerque, consider spending an evening in Las Cruces to explore Historic Mesilla and savor the area’s Hatch Valley chile peppers in one of its tempting green chile burgers—or even in a sweet frozen custard.

La Posta in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Top Reasons to Visit Las Cruces

Outdoor adventure. Unique culinary experiences. Vibrant culture. Rich history.

Maybe it’s the friendly people and the endless sunshine. Or maybe it’s the chile-laced food (and drink.) There are plenty of reasons to visit Las Cruces, New Mexico. Here are just eleven:

Chiles in the Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Do the Walk of Flame

That is… if you can handle the heat! The Walk of Flame Green Chile Trail is a newly established culinary route that leads hungry (and thirsty) visitors to hot spots where they can sample Las Cruces’ famous green chiles in all their glorious guises. In Las Cruces, green chile crops up in and on everything from ice cream to pot stickers to hot dogs to wine, not just Mexican fare.

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can feast on The Game’s corked bats (pecan-encrusted Hatch green chile strips), sip Chile ‘Rita’s at La Posta de Mesilla, or surprise their senses with a Green Chile Sundae from Caliche’s Frozen Custard. Green chile chasers also have the option to get their hands dirty on a tour of the Chile Pepper Institute Garden.

Musical entertainment in downtown Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Kick up some dust at the Country Music Festival

Country superstars ride into Las Cruces in October for the Las Cruces Country Music Festival, a three day celebration of country music in downtown Las Cruces. Past performers include Travis Tritt, Tayna Tucker, Kacey Musgraves, Eli Young Band, Kenny Rogers, the Charlie Daniels Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lee Ann Womack, Aaron Watson, Cam, Dustin Lynch, Cassadee Pope, Little Texas, Darryl Worley, Craig Campbell, Greg Bates, Chase Bryant and others.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Or wander across what seems like an endless desert beach

An hour’s drive northwest of Las Cruces, White Sands National Park comprises 275 square miles of wave-like gypsum sand dunes. During the stroll, visitors will hear the story of the monument and see the critters and vegetation that are able to survive in this arid expanse. By the end of the tour, the sun is setting, lighting the sky with hues of purples and pinks for a picture-perfect moment.

Farmers and Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Encounter local and exotic creations at the award-winning Farmers & Crafts Market

More than 300 vendors gather to sell locally-made wares and fares of all sorts at the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market, voted one of the top farmers markets in the country. Open every Saturday and Wednesday morning downtown, the market brims with handmade jewelry, pottery and other crafts, local produce, and even prepared food to devour on the spot.

Parrots at La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Talk with parrots at La Posta

Diners will find unexpectedly talkative “greeters” at the much-loved restaurant La Posta de Mesilla. Colorful parrots welcome guests in the lobby of the colorful 200-year old adobe. This and numerous other restaurants and shops can be found in the historic village of Mesilla just outside of Las Cruces.

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Monumental moments

The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument surrounds Las Cruces with 496,000 acres of opportunity for hiking, biking, and exploring petroglyph and archeological sites.

Rio Grande Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Raise a glass in the oldest wine-producing region in North America

Las Cruces has lots to boast about, being in the fertile Mesilla Valley where grape growing dates back to the late 1500s. At Rio Grande Vineyard and Winery, Sunday afternoons on the patio is particularly alluring. Enjoy live music and taste the wines or house made sangrias as you gaze at the nearby mountains. Lovers of wine can also enjoy New Mexican wines at St. Clair Winery & Bistro, Amaro Winery, and La Viña Winery.

8. Become the Salsa Judge

Downtown Las Cruces heats up for Salsa Fest, a three-day celebration of everything salsa in the fall. In addition to salsa sampling and a salsa making competition, the event gets people moving with salsa dancing lessons, live performances, and local wine and beer.

Dining at La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Dine among “ghosts”

Legend has it that quite a few buildings in Mesilla are haunted. Begin your search for the paranormal with La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant where many have claimed to see chairs moving, heard glasses smashed to the floor, and experienced strange smells.

Double Eagle Restaurant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then head to the Double Eagle restaurant in Mesilla, with resident spirits in the building (which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places!) If paranormal activity doesn’t call to you, the World’s Largest Green Chile Cheeseburger just might.

Along Scenic Highway 28 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Exploring Scenic Highway 28

The Don Juan de Onate Trail invites today’s travelers to follow in the hoof prints of the Spanish conquistador and his band of 400 colonizers in 1598 as they journeyed from New Spain (Mexico) north to find the fabled Cities of Gold in what is now northern New Mexico. The drive along the trail (Highway 28) is one of the Las Cruces area’s most scenic routes, crossing and flanking the Rio Grande from El Paso to historic Old Mesilla.

Stahmann Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rural two-lane road then passes fields of corn, chile, and cotton on its way through several small villages, including San Miguel. Further south, slip beneath a canopy of pecan trees that mark the world’s largest, family-owned pecan orchard, Stahmann Farms. 

Further down the trail sits the community of La Mesa, home to a National Register of Historic Places property, Chope’s Café and Bar. 

World’s Largest Roadrunner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. An encounter with the World’s Largest Roadrunner

The roadrunner is the official state bird of New Mexico. A giant recycled roadrunner—20 feet tall and 40 feet long—has been an icon of Las Cruces ever since artist Olin Calk built it in 1993. It was made exclusively of items salvaged from the land fill. In early 2001, Olin stripped off the old junk, replaced it with new junk, and moved the roadrunner to a rest stop along Interstate 10, just west of the city. Signs around the sculpture warned of rattlesnakes, but when we stopped by to visit people were blissfully trudging out to the big bird anyway, to pose for snapshots or examine the junk (We did, too).

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Feel the Burn

How hot is hot?

New Mexicans today like their ancestors revere the fiery chile cultivated centuries ago in Pueblo and Hispano communities up and down the Rio Grande from Taos to Vado.

Chiles at Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The varieties consumed today trace their lineage to an heirloom variety, the 6-4, bred in 1894 by Fabian Garcia at Las Cruces’ New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, known today as New Mexico State University (NMSU). His pepper rated 1,786 Scoville Heat Units. Today’s most popular chile varieties—Rio Grande, Sandia and Big Jim—clock in at from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile shares the State Vegetable honor with frijoles (pinto beans). The State Question, often heard at restaurants when customers order a dish that includes chile is: “Red or Green?” 

Red chile pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flame-roasted green chile is typically spicier than dried, rehydrated, and ground red chile. In addition to traditional green and red chile Mexican dishes, chile-infused foods run the gamut from green chile chicken wontons and green chile chocolate bars to green chile wine and green chile milk shakes.

More chile-infused products © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most revered among chile-loving New Mexicans is the green chile cheeseburger which has been elevated to superstar status in the Land of Enchantment. In 2009, the state’s tourism department initiated the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Each year, chefs compete to see who wins the state’s Best Chile Cheeseburger crown.

Visitors to Las Cruces can enjoy cheeseburgers adorned with chopped or “slabs” of green chile grown locally as well as revered chiles from sacred ground zero in Hatch some 33 miles north.

Chiles by the sack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world for their various shapes, sizes, colors, and heat levels. According to New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute that popularity goes back thousands of years.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers have chemical compounds called capsaicinoids. When humans or other mammals eat or even touch capsaicinoids it sends a sensation to the brain that the pepper is hot. In addition to food purposes, capsaicin is used in pain relief patches to relieve muscle aches and pains.

Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, chile peppers are used in a wide variety of cuisine depending on the heat level produced. The bell pepper, or the sweet pepper, has no heat at all. Those can be used fresh in salads or cooked in various dishes. Mild to hot chile peppers include poblanos, New Mexico chile pepper varieties, and jalapeños. Those can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked and used in traditional Mexican dishes and salsas. Further up the heat scale are tabascos and similar peppers used in hot sauces. Habaneros and chiltepins are considered very hot. Anything above one million Scoville Heat Units including the Bhut Jolokia and the Trinidad Scorpion are considered super hot.

Chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers tend to be rich in vitamins A and C and have other nutritional values as well. The purple pigment present in some peppers is produced by anthocyanin, an antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage in the body. Red chile peppers are rich in carotenoids and is considered good for eye health.

A green chile pepper compared to a red chile pepper isn’t going to be as sweet,” Coon said. “Once you get into the red stage, it’s going to produce more sugar so it’s going to be a little sweeter.”

Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Chile Facts

Though often categorized as a vegetable, chiles are really a fruit as evidenced by their seeds.

Chile peppers originated in South America and then spread to Central and North America.

The Indians of the American tropics cultivated the chile pepper for centuries for both its culinary and medicinal uses.

Hatch chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On his first voyage to the Western hemisphere, Christopher Columbus mistakenly called the fiery chile pod “pepper” an unrelated spice native to the subcontinent.

All chile peppers are edible even ornamentals. Ornamentals, however, have been bred for their appearance and usually have little to no flavor or can be very hot.

Chile peppers are relatives of tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants which all belong to the nightshade family.

The color extracted from very red chile pepper pods, oleoresin, is used in everything from lipstick to processed meats.

There are 26 known species of chile pepper five of which are domesticated.

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

Wake Up In New Mexico

Adventure waits at every corner. Native American culture abounds. National and state treasures are easy to find. And history is created every day.

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

Rio Grande River north of Albuquerque near Bernalillo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert scenery here is absolutely breathtaking. The red rock cliffs and sprawling mesas make a drive through New Mexico seem a lot shorter than the 375 miles I-40 travels through the state. Northern New Mexico also boasts the mountains of Taos, and gives that part of the state a look more Colorado than Arizona.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico’s National Parks and Monuments offer a wide variety of outdoor and educational experiences. There are dormant volcanoes, ancient lava flows, ice caves, fossil sites, archeological digs, and unique geology just waiting to be explored.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park is one of the most distinct—and arresting—pieces of earth in the lower 48. Stretching 275 square miles, the majestic white dunes here aren’t composed of your typical beach sand but rather from gypsum crystals left behind from a nearby dried-out lake bed. The result looks more like a white-sand version of the Sahara desert than New Mexico; you half expect to see camels waltzing by.

El Moro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover an oasis in the desert at El Morro National Monument. The natural watering hole is tucked at the base of colorful sandstone cliffs. Walk the Inscription Trail to see thousands of inscriptions that bear witness to the visitors who sought refreshment there throughout the centuries.

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America featuring designs and symbols carved onto volcanic rocks by Native Americans and Spanish settlers 400 to 700 years ago. These images are a valuable record of cultural expression and hold profound spiritual significance for contemporary Native Americans.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And we’d be remiss to leave out Carlsbad Caverns, a massive system of 119 known caves beneath its surface. Carlsbad Caverns are truly enormous; Will Rogers called the cave system “the Grand Canyon with a roof over it.” The most popular route through the cave is the Big Room (the largest single cave chamber in North America) which consists of a well-lit concrete path that will take you an hour or more to complete.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico is home to some of the oldest, continuously inhabited communities in North America. The Pueblos of Taos, Acoma, and Zuni have existed for countless lifetimes. Places like Chaco Canyon and Aztec were developed and populated thousands of years before Europeans arrived to America’s shores. 

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico’s cities are incomparable bastions of history, culture, and art. Santa Fe was called the Dancing Ground of the Sun by early Native American inhabitants and dubbed The City Different by town fathers at the turn of the 20th century. By any name, Santa Fe is one of the world’s top award-winning and most beloved destinations—four centuries of history and legend, ancient and modern cultures, visual and performing arts, and expansive culinary delights. 

Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re like us and many RVers, you love exploring America’s vast and varied culinary landscape during your travels. And I’m not talking fast food. If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, New Mexico would be in this select group.

Red chile field in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced the cuisine. If you’ve never had New Mexican food, then prep your taste buds now! At the center of it all is the chile in both red and green varieties which is used in everything from enchiladas to wine and ice cream.

Chiles at Las Cruces Farmers and Craft Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiles are the soul of New Mexican cooking which blends Native American and Hispanic influences into a cuisine unto itself. Chile comes in two varieties: red or green. Which one you will prefer is up to your palate. (Note: New Mexicans use the spelling chile, not chili, to mean the plant and the green or red sauce they make from it.)

La Posta in Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile is the New Mexico’s largest agricultural crop. Across the state chile is consumed at every meal, is celebrated in songs and at festivals, and is the subject of the Official New Mexico State Question, Red or Green?, estimated to be uttered over 200,000 times a day in the state.

Mural at La Posta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Chile Peppers 101

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

New Mexicans today like their ancestors revere the fiery chile cultivated centuries ago in Pueblo and Hispano communities up and down the Rio Grande from Taos to Vado.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The varieties consumed today trace their lineage to an heirloom variety, the 6-4, bred in 1894 by Fabian Garcia at Las Cruces’ New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, known today as New Mexico State University (NMSU). His pepper rated 1,786 Scoville Heat Units. Today’s most popular chile varieties—Rio Grande, Sandia, and Big Jim—clock in at from 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Heat Units.

Dried chile peppers in Las Cruces Craft and Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile shares the State Vegetable honor with frijoles (pinto beans). The State Question, often heard at restaurants when customers order a dish that includes chile is: “Red or Green?” 

Flame-roasted green chile is typically spicier than dried, rehydrated, and ground red chile. In addition to traditional green and red chile Mexican dishes, chile-infused foods run the gamut from green chile chicken wontons and green chile chocolate bars to green chile wine and green chile milk shakes.

Dried chile peppers in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most revered among chile-loving New Mexicans is the green chile cheeseburger which has been elevated to superstar status in the Land of Enchantment. In 2009, the state’s tourism department initiated the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail. Each year, chefs compete to see who wins the state’s Best Chile Cheeseburger crown.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Las Cruces can enjoy cheeseburgers adorned with chopped or “slabs” of green chile grown locally as well as revered chiles from sacred ground zero in Hatch some 33 miles north.

Dried chile peppers in Las Cruces Craft and Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From sweet bell peppers to spicy jalapeños and the super hot Trinidad Scorpion, chile peppers are popular around the world for their various shapes, sizes, colors, and heat levels. According to New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute that popularity goes back thousands of years.

Chile peppers have chemical compounds called capsaicinoids. When humans or other mammals eat or even touch capsaicinoids it sends a sensation to the brain that the pepper is hot. In addition to food purposes, capsaicin is used in pain relief patches to relieve muscle aches and pains.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, chile peppers are used in a wide variety of cuisine depending on the heat level produced. The bell pepper, or the sweet pepper, has no heat at all. Those can be used fresh in salads or cooked in various dishes. Mild to hot chile peppers include poblanos, New Mexico chile pepper varieties, and jalapeños. Those can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked and used in traditional Mexican dishes and salsas.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further up the heat scale are tabascos and similar peppers used in hot sauces. Habaneros and chiltepins are considered very hot. Anything above one million Scoville Heat Units including the Bhut Jolokia and the Trinidad Scorpion are considered super hot.

Dried chile peppers in Las Cruces Craft and Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“There’s a lot of people out there who love that burn,” Danise Coon, a senior research specialist at the Chile Pepper Institute said. “We can make sauces out of those kinds of peppers but they really are incredibly hot. The good news, every one of those is edible. As long as it’s a true capsicum, it’s edible. Even if it’s an ornamental chile pepper, it’s edible.”

Louisiana hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers tend to be rich in vitamins A and C and have other nutritional values as well. The purple pigment present in some peppers is produced by anthocyanin, an antioxidant that can help prevent cell damage in the body. Red chile peppers are rich in carotenoids and is considered good for eye health.

Dried chile peppers in Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A green chile pepper compared to a red chile pepper isn’t going to be as sweet,” Coon said. “Once you get into the red stage, it’s going to produce more sugar so it’s going to be a little sweeter.”

Tabasco hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Chile Facts

  • One fresh, medium-sized green chile pod has as much Vitamin C as six oranges.
  • One teaspoon of dried red chile powder has the daily requirements of Vitamin A.
  • Hot chile peppers burn calories by triggering a thermodynamic burn in the body which speeds up the metabolism.
  • Teas and lozenges are made with chile peppers for the treatment of a sore throat.
  • The Capsaicinoids (the chemical that make chile peppers hot) are used in muscle patches for sore and aching muscles.
  • Wild chiles are easily spread by birds because birds do not have the receptors in their mouths to feel the heat.
  • Born somewhere in the Amazon where the borders of Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil merge peppers were one of the first cultivated plants in the Western Hemisphere. Chile pepper remnants found at a pre-agricultural site in Peru are evidence that the pepper was the first spice used anywhere on Earth.
Tabasco hot sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

4 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

New Mexico may seem like it’s all about diverse cultures, world-class art, and landscapes fading away to glistening horizons—and it is, but that’s just the tip of the chile

New Mexico is truly an enchanted place. Explore everything the state has to offer—from breathtaking sunsets to fabulous local cuisine, New Mexico has it all.

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

Albuquerque as seen from Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the years we have enjoyed several road trips through New Mexico. New Mexico is a truly unique place, with gorgeous landscapes ranging from white sand deserts to snow topped mountains. If you are an outdoorsy person, you will be in heaven. If you are more of a “sit in the air conditioning and drink margaritas” person, you will be in heaven too.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is really something for everyone in this state. I will go into more detail about things to see and do in future posts, but here are four tips that will help you make the most of your trip!

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced the cuisine. The food is not like anything else in the country. The closest relative is Tex-Mex which is generally heavier and emphasizes meat, cheese, and cream sauces. New Mexican food relies more on fresh ingredients, chili sauces, and salsas.

Red chiles from Hatch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Right away we noticed the lack of cheese on the dishes. After spending numerous winters in Arizona and Texas, we expected as much shredded cheddar on our plate as anything else. Not the case in NM!

Cotton fields in the Mesilla Valley south of Las Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, many ingredients are taken from Native American culture like hominy, blue masa, and lots of fresh vegetables. Of course, I also need to mention New Mexicans love their chiles!

La Posta de Mesilla is a great stop for foodies in the Las Cruces area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Chiles are the soul of New Mexican cooking, which blends Native American and Hispanic influences into a cuisine unto itself. New Mexico’s largest agricultural crop, chiles come in both red and green varieties. Across the state Chile is consumed at every meal, is celebrated in songs and at festivals, and is the subject of the Official New Mexico State Question, Red or Green? estimated to be uttered over 200,000 times a day in the state.

La Plazuela at La Fonda is a favorite of ours for New Mexico cuisine in Santa Fe.

Note: New Mexicans use the spelling chile, not chili, to mean the plant and the green or red sauce they make from it.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you don’t like spicy foods, don’t let that deter you from trying new things, just ask for the sauce on the side so you can judge the heat before adding it to your dish. Surprisingly, green chilies are actually hotter than the red ones. Consider ordering a side of guacamole if things got too spicy!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Elevation can be a major concern. When traveling throughout New Mexico there are significant changes in altitude. Las Cruces is 3,890 feet above sea level while Albuquerque 220 miles north on I-15 is around 5,200 feet sea level. If you are driving north to Santé Fe and Taos, it climbs upwards to 8,000 feet (and higher in the mountains). Altitude sickness can happen to anyone, no matter their fitness level.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some basis tips: Take it slow and drink LOTS of water. More water than you think you need. If you start getting a headache or feel dizzy, stop and sit down. Allow time in your schedule for rest stops, especially when hiking.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also important to note: all those refreshing margaritas at the end of the day will hit you much harder than normal! Sip with caution.

Plaza de Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. New Mexico’s vibrant native communities and cultures. From northwest to southeast and just about everywhere in between, New Mexico’s Native presence is obvious. It’s a presence that dates back more than two millennia, when early ancestral tribes lived as hunter-gatherers throughout the Southwest.

Spiral staircase in Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 1,000 years ago, some of these groups joined together to establish permanent settlements, commonly known as pueblos. It’s a way of life that continues to this very day among New Mexico’s 23 pueblos, tribes, and nations.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe